WASHINGTON – The Trump administration on Thursday offered the Supreme Court a way out of ruling on the travel ban controversy, over the objection of the policy's opponents.
In a letter to the court, the administration's chief Supreme Court lawyer told the justices they should dismiss the case, now that the version of the travel ban they had been planning to consider has expired and been replaced by a revised policy.
The ban's opponents countered that the anti-Muslim bias that they saw in the old travel policy remains in the new version. The American Civil Liberties Union said one reason the court should rule now on the travel ban is because the latest version "continues to relay a message of disparagement" to Muslims.
It's not clear when the justices will decide what to do with the case.
Both sides in the dispute that has raged almost since Trump took office in January filed letters with the high court Thursday addressing whether the case should be dismissed.
The justices canceled an argument session that was set for next week and asked the parties to weigh in on whether the court should sidestep, at least for now, ruling on the legality of a travel ban that affected visitors from six mostly Muslim countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Also at issue is a ban on refugees that expires on Oct. 24.
The travel ban lapsed Sept. 24. It was immediately replaced by a revised policy that the administration has said was based on an objective assessment of each country's security situation and willingness to share information with the U.S.
Opponents have described the changes as window dressing that leave in place the heart of what they call a Muslim ban.
The administration has taken Sudan off the list and added Chad and North Korea, along with several officials from the government of Venezuela. The new policy takes full effect on Oct. 18.
Immigrant advocacy and civil rights groups already have challenged the new policy.
Trump Solicitor General Noel Francisco told the justices there is no sense in holding arguments or issuing a decision about policies no longer in effect or soon to expire.
"The United States respectfully submits that both of these appeals are now or soon will be moot," Francisco wrote the court.
The two sides also disagreed about what the court should do if it decides not to hear the case now. The administration urged the justices to throw out lower court rulings against earlier versions of the ban. Otherwise, the administration said, opponents will try to use those decisions to bolster their challenges to the new policy.
Opponents argued for leaving the lower court rulings against the ban in place. The administration controlled most of the timing issues that led to this point, and the court should not reward it by throwing out rulings that were unfavorable to the administration, the opponents said.